Anger. Sadness. Love. Hope. In music, these emotions are found everywhere. Thousands of different artists have expressed all four feelings, as well as many others. However, theres one emotion thats rarely represented in music, and when it is, everyone should take notice. That emotion is joy. Not just happiness — Im talking about pure elation that only comes in fleeting moments. Its one of the hardest emotions to capture, and its found in almost every song of Civil Twilights self-titled debut album.
Civil Twilight — made up of guitarist Andrew McKellar, vocalist and multi-instrumenalist Steven McKellar, and drummer Richard Wouters — strives to create an epic sound that fills all corners of the room. Their music is passionate, upbeat, and at many times, just loud. Its the sound of a band thats glad to be alive and making music together.
The album opens with Anybody Out There, a song that fits the very definition of a soaring anthem. The six-minute track starts off with a low drone that grows louder and louder until the guitar, bass, and drums appear in the fuzz. Rhythmic, echo-filled guitar tones float in the background against the vocals and drums until the chorus explodes on the scene. At this point, a much clearer guitar tone pushes its way to the front to join the rest of the music. An effects-laden guitar solo precedes a powerful final chorus before the instruments fade back into the drone.
Next up is Soldier, a reggae-rocker that unveils the mind of a combatant whos unsure about what hes fighting for. An edgy, frantic guitar adds a sense of urgency to the mix, which is only heightened by occasional increases in guitar volume. With lyrics like I dont stop till the mission is done/I dont stop till they tell me Ive won/I dont know why I rage this war/Im just a soldier aiming for one more, Steven McKellar displays the introspective themes that pop up all over the album. There are a lot of questions that need answering, but theres always a sense that itll turn out right in the end.
Other great songs include Human, a beautiful piano ballad about how the emotions we cant explain are what makes us human. McKellars falsetto in the chorus sounds fragile enough to shatter, but it holds steady and really makes the entire song. Quiet In My Town, the albums closer, is a reflective and mostly-acoustic number about the silence found in mourning after a death occurs. While most of the track sounds like a whisper at a funeral, it ends with the entire band kicking in and McKellar yelling the chorus to break through the quiet. It feels like the band is defiant in the face of death and mourning. That is part of what makes the joy of Civil Twilight work. Its joy in the face of struggle and troubling issues. Instead of feeling like a failed stab at hippie love, its a bunch of victorious anthems in a battle against cynicism and negativity.
This feeling of joyous victory is most successfully created about halfway through the album. Letters From The Sky was released as a single in 2008 but managed to make it on the album. Its a good thing it did, since this is easily the best song on the record. It starts off as a slow, piano-centered song that continually builds until it explodes in a glorious finale. Rapid guitar and drums provide support as McKellar shows off the full range of his vocals, and its a very impressive range. In his mid-20s, the singer reaches heights that most vocalists can only dream of, sounding almost like he’s combined the power of Roger Daltrey with the falsetto of Bono, all in their respected prime, of course. Freddie Mercury comparisons probably will and definitely should be noted, too. When he belts out the ending lines of Letters From The Sky, it’s like hes having the time of his life and doesn’t care about holding back.
In fact, in most of the songs here, the group sounds like they enjoyed every second of the recording process. It doesnt feel like they’re trying to prove themselves, or that they spent much time attempting to be subtle. Instead, this album is a declaration that Civil Twilight has arrived and will stay, simply because they like where they are right now. That’s not to say the album is perfect, however. A few of the tracks dont reach the heights of the ones mentioned. While still good songs, they feel weak when compared to the earlier highlights. The structure is a bit uneven, too, and causes some jarring transitions that could have been easily avoided. But these are only minor gripes when compared to the peaks of the record.
I could say that the music world would be better with more albums like Civil Twilight. The problem is that Im not sure that would be true. Thats the thing about joy. Its amazing when its around, but it works best in small doses.